The word naff is clearly British, but it has its place in American English, as well. It is a term which means something (or someone)which is singularly inferior. To be inferior is not something that is organic; it is a judgment that is imposed.
I love the Eleanor Roosevelt quote at the right which makes it clear that inferiority can only be validated by the person upon whom it is is imposed. Just because someone says your work is inferior…or worse yet…that you are inferior…is strictly a values judgment on that person’s part unless you buy into it and let it become real for you.
However, naff has another meaning which is parallel to the inferiority definition. Something can be said to be naff if it is done in poor taste. I racist or sexist joke can be naff. A crude statement or use of a foul word is naff. A demeaning comment to a vulnerable person is a naff act. It’s not a really common word (except in England) but it shows up now and then.
For instance, in the Saturday, November 29, edition of the New York Times a review appeared in the Arts section by columnist Ben Sisario. He was commenting on an interview of a forthcoming Christmas production by producer, Nick Lowe. It’s a British Christmas album. Evidently, it’s not your typical Christmas album. By his own account, Lowe uses the word naff in reference to it
Over here, we’ve got a completely different attitude to Christmas from the United States. You guys are much more big-hearted about it all. Here, releasing a Christmas record is seen as sort of … do you know what “naff” means? Its root is uncool, but it’s really more vulgar. It means if you’re trying to impress someone with what good taste you’ve got, and in doing so, you actually demonstrate that you have no taste at all. And that’s what people here really think, that if you make a Christmas record, you’re a bit stupid and a bit of a sellout.”
I felt the need to pursue the word and found that it’s a somewhat slang term that has the equivalent of the F-word in American English. Further research, using such resources as the Urban Dictionary, made it clear that the word is used as a derogatory comment about something that is messed up, or…I suppose…inferior. I read through the various uses of the term in British slang and chose to leave it at that.
I find it interesting that the term naff is employed in a conversation in the Times
about a Christmas music album. I guess the whole secular thing in England has gone further than I thought.